Pluto’s Expanding Atmosphere Confounds Researchers
2011 04 21
By Sid Perkins | ScienceMag.org
Recent observations of Pluto reveal that the icy orb’s atmosphere has expanded dramatically since 2000, and for the first time researchers have detected carbon monoxide. The findings may be evidence of seasonal changes in climate linked to Pluto’s most recent close approach to the sun, but scientists still aren’t sure about how those variations unfold over the course of each 248-year orbit.
Pluto’s atmosphere recently expanded dramatically and now extends almost one-quarter of the distance to Charon, its largest orbital companion (lower right).
Credit: P. A. S. Cruickshank
Pluto is the only object orbiting in the frigid realm beyond Neptune that is known to have an atmosphere. That tenuous sheath of gas was discovered in 1988 when the “dwarf planet” passed between Earth and a distant star, blocking some of the star’s light. Although telescopic observations at various wavelengths since the early 1990s have since identified several substances in Pluto’s surface ices—including nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide—only methane had been detected previously in its atmosphere.
Now scientists can add carbon monoxide to the mix. New observations of the atmosphere’s emissions at various wavelengths, particularly at the 1.3-millimeter wavelength, betray the presence of the gas for the first time. Because carbon monoxide probably could have been observed by instruments in previous studies, its newfound presence likely marks a new stage in the season-by-season evolution of Pluto’s atmosphere, the researchers suggest. Pluto was discovered only about 80 years ago—less than one-third of the time it takes to make a single orbit, notes team member Jane Greaves, an astrobiologist at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom, so “we’re seeing everything happen for the first time.”
Pluto rendered surface (ESO/L Cal ada)
Although methane and carbon monoxide are the only gases yet detected in Pluto’s atmosphere, scientists expect that by far the largest constituent is nitrogen, a gas that’s hard to detect due to its subdued emissions characteristics at many wavelengths, Greaves says. “It’s frustrating that we don’t know about 97% of Pluto’s atmosphere.”
The new observations also reveal that Pluto’s atmosphere is growing. Data collected around the turn of the century suggested that Pluto’s cold, diffuse atmosphere extended no more than 135 kilometers above the planet’s surface, Greaves says. But she sees hints of an atmospheric expansion in data that she and her colleagues gathered using telescopes atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea on 11 nights scattered between August 2009 and May 2010. She says that the atmosphere now reaches heights of more than 3000 kilometers—a distance almost one-quarter of the way to Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. “This is not what we expected,” Greaves says. “The atmosphere has changed so dramatically.”
Pluto travels along a highly elliptical path and last passed closest to the sun in 1989. Many planetary scientists expected the atmosphere to shrink as the icy orb began receding from the sun’s warmth. The unanticipated expansion may be related to changes in the darkness of the orb’s surface a decade or so ago, which may have caused the surface ices to absorb more solar radiation and more efficiently evaporate. Or, Greaves suggests, long-term variations in the sun’s ultraviolet output, changes linked to the roughly 11-year cycle of solar activity, may be playing a role. The team will present both findings tomorrow at a meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society in Llandudno in the United Kingdom.
The recent changes in the atmosphere, as well as their timing, are indeed unexpected, says Peter Barnes, an astronomer at the University of Florida, Gainesville. “Pluto is obviously a much more dynamic object than anyone had expected.”
Current studies are just a taste of what’s to come when NASA’s New Horizons mission nears Pluto. The heavily instrumented craft, launched in 2006, is halfway to Pluto and should whiz by the icy orb and its orbital companions in 2015.
Article from: news.sciencemag.org
Front Page Image: NASA
Also tune into:
Wallace Thornhill - The Electric Universe
Donald E. Scott - The Electric Sky
Rens van der Sluijs - Plasma Mythology & The Axis Mundi
Susan Joy Rennison - Cosmic Origins of Global Warming
Joseph P Farrell - Cosmic War, Interplanetary Warfare & Mesopotamian Mythology
Andy Lloyd - Dark Star, Evidence for Planet X
Craig Hines - Gateway of the Gods
Andrew Johnson - Chemtrails, Weather Modification & Climate Change
Robert Felix - The Coming Ice Age
Tim Ball - Climategate & The Anthropogenic Global Warming Fraud
James Follett - The Church of Global Warming
Susan Joy Rennison - A New Cosmic Age, Space Weather & Cosmic Radiation
Pluto bulging with carbon monoxide
Get your electricity from outer space
NASA provides "Explanation" of China Earthquake: "Electrical disturbances on edge of atmosphere & impending quakes"
Shooting clouds with lasers triggers electrical discharge
Space Aliens Blamed For the Electric Universe?
Hubble shows Pluto "turning red" - Planet X?
Large "Planet X" may lurk beyond Pluto
Global Warming on Mars, Pluto, Triton and Jupiter
Huge New Planet (Brown Dwarf?) Discovered in Our Solar System - Tyche Echoes of Planet X or "Nibiru"
Forget Planet X - New Technique Could Pinpoint Galaxy X
Did planet hunter leak data about other Earths?
Newfound Planet Orbits Backward
The truth about global warming - it’s the Sun that’s to blame
The Church of Global Warming
Pluto’s atmosphere is here today, gone tomorrow (2008)
Latest News from our Front Page
James Foley Beheading: What They’re Not Telling You
2014 08 27
The latest poster child for military expansion in the middle east poses a host of disturbing questions.
Experts: James Foley Beheading Video Likely Fake
By Paul Joseph Watson| Infowars
Forensic analysis confirms Infowars investigation that footage was staged as war propaganda
Confirming Infowars’ analysis on Thursday, British forensic experts have concluded that the ISIS beheading video involving James Foley was in all likelihood ...
US forces move into Syria as Barack Obama paves way for airstrikes on ISIS
2014 08 27
US forces move into Syria: Obama paves way for airstrikes on ISIS after sending in spy planes - despite Assad warning that any attack will be seen as ’aggression’
Barack Obama has paved the way for airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria after spy planes started operating in the country on his command, according to U.S officials.
While the White ...
Stop creating a climate of fear!
2014 08 27
ok. listen up political correct people! if you’re someone who reflexively calls others “racists” or “neofascists” without first checking into whether or not they actually are, you need to STOP it, because you’re creating a climate of fear in which people are afraid to do their jobs.
and now i’m not talking about some academics sitting comfortably in their ivy towers, ...
Gov. Jerry Brown to Mexican Illegals: ’You’re All Welcome in California’
2014 08 27
On Monday evening, California Governor Jerry Brown said all Mexicans, including illegal immigrants, are welcome in California.
According to the Los Angeles Times, while introducing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who said America is "the other Mexico," Brown "spoke about the interwoven histories of Mexico and California." He "nodded to the immigrants in the room, saying it didn’t matter if ...
Election Posters in New Sweden
2014 08 27
Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has promised continued mass immigration at the expense of welfare reform and tax cuts. Reinfeldt’s Moderates party consequently does everything in their power to recruit immigrants’ votes. Placards for the forthcoming elections, widely distributed in immigrant-dominated enclaves in Sweden, has Arabic text, the language that now increasingly is dominating major parts of "New Sweden."
In the ...
|More News » |